In order for locally grown food to have a true impact on urban sustainability, all those tomatoes and radishes need to move beyond just the NPR tote bags and into grocery stores, school lunches, and inner-city food deserts. The problem is, produce buyers don’t have the time to coordinate with a dozen farmers. That’s why recently launched websites like Local Dirt and FoodHub are combining social networking and agriculture. Growers list what they’re harvesting, and buyers place orders online and pick them up. Which is good for, say, a tiny bistro, but public schools aren’t going to stock their cafeterias from individual farm stands.
The next step? Local distribution centers: farmers send their crops to a modern processing facility, which delivers them to urban stores and restaurants, the same way conventional food finishes its 3,000-mile journey. The SENC Foods Processing and Distribution Center opened in Burgaw, North Carolina, in March; Madison, Wisconsin, and Berkeley, California, have similar projects launching in the next year.
The real game-changer, however, could be a company many consider the antichrist of localism: Walmart. Now the largest grocer in the nation, the big-box retailer has begun selling local produce to reduce shipping costs and reach its sustainability goals. Even more, a new program aims to support growers who reestablish traditional local crops, like blueberries and onions, that have been displaced by cotton, soybeans, and corn.